Pictured above: Major General Hank Canterbury US Air Force, retired, Bill Keen, and 2nd Lieutenant Matt Robbins US Air Force at the 2019 Oshkosh Air Show.
As regular readers and listeners know, I recently turned 50 and I do worry about the world that my generation is leaving behind for our children and grandchildren. If you get too caught up in chatter on cable news and social media, it can leave you feeling pretty scared and frustrated. And if you believe the stereotypes about the upcoming millennial generation, we’re leaving some pretty serious problems in the hands of kids who are entitled, self-absorbed, and incapable of handling basic adult responsibilities – or so they say.
That’s why I invited US Air Force Academy graduate, Second Lieutenant Matt Robbins on today’s show. I’ve known Matt since he was a 15-year-old volunteer at my flight school. Today, at 22, he’s working towards his Masters in aeronautical engineering as he begins his career serving our country. I think listening to Matt discuss his worldview, his commitment to service, and his pursuit of excellence is going to make you feel a heck of a lot more positive about how the next generation is going to reshape our world.
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“I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Matt first fell in love with aviation playing “Microsoft Flight Simulator” on his grandparents’ computer.
But much like Baby Boomers who were affected by the tumult of the 1960s, geopolitical events had a massive impact on Matt’s life.
“I was born in 1997,” he explains, “so for all of my life as far as I can remember, whenever I made memories, we’ve been living in this post 9/11 war on terrorism, or at least thinking about it. That’s a really strange environment to grow up into, where you think your country is threatened. If you can put yourself in the shoes of a kid that’s 11 or 12 years old and they stumble on a horrible video of another American jumping out of one of the towers just so they don’t have to burn alive, that scars you. It’s horrible. It sticks with you. From growing up like that, whatever I did I wanted to be impactful. I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life.”
The Air Force provided Matt with a way to unite his love of flying with his calling for service. “It was a match made in heaven,” he says.
“It was very fun, and I’m only being a little sarcastic.”
Of course, choosing this path meant that Matt was going to forgo what many teens consider “the college experience.” In addition to a rigorous academic workload, Matt would also be going through basic cadet training as he prepared himself for military service.
“It was very fun, and I’m only being a little sarcastic,” Matt jokes. “The first three months you’ll go through basic cadet training, which is our boot camp. That’s everything that you see in the media with the videos of you crawling around in the dirt, carrying a gun, doing pushups, getting yelled at, all of that. Honestly that wasn’t a huge deal. I was completely expecting that going into the military, and it was very physically and mentally challenging, but I got through it.”
The Air Force Academy also strictly regiments what life is like for new recruits. This helps cadets learn how to manage their time, but it’s also a way of making them earn the honor of serving our country.
Matt says, “All the accomplishments that you may have had in high school and growing up to get into a place like that, frankly, it doesn’t really matter. You are here to serve your country. When you come in as a freshman at a military academy, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. You’ve got to earn your way back up, and that incents people to work harder and to work the way the Air Force wants you to work.”
“Leading by example is so important.”
High achievers like Matt eventually earn additional responsibilities, such as leading peer teams through exercises and competitions with other schools. Those experiences taught Matt what he values in a leader, and what kind of leader he wants to be.
“When you talk about leading by example, I’m going to be much more inclined to follow somebody into combat if I know they have my back and they’ve been there before,” Matt says. “If I’m going to require that my team puts in an extra hour to practice their event and to score more points, then I better be putting in at least two hours of extra work, because leading by example is so important. Humility is so important too, because I just really think that you can’t fight a war with awards. The stuff on your resume doesn’t really mean a whole lot to me. I think what’s going to show more in a leader are those traits, those skills, those habits that you developed to get that award and showing those in everyday practice.”
“Just be patient if you’re frustrated with millennials.”
I’m struck by how many of the men and women of Matt’s generation I’ve been around have these kinds of goals and these kinds of ideals. I recently visited my son Devin at the University of Missouri – Science and Technology in Rolla, MO and as I talked to him and his engineering classmates, I thought, “Wow, these young people are really going places. They’re thinking about how they can add something back to our country.” The joke on the internet is that millennials have trouble “adulting.” But the reality that I’m seeing is that millennials want to use their lives and careers to make a difference. Some of them might take a little bit longer than others to find that purpose, but once they do, they become very passionate about it.
“I don’t think people need to worry about people my age,” Matt says. “I think we have good mentorship. We grew up in good families. We’ve seen people go to work. We know what’s going to lead to financial success. I think with a lot of people that are my age, it just takes some time. A lot of people frankly don’t know what they’re passionate about, and that takes a few years to figure out. Just be patient, if you’re frustrated with millennials.”
Personally, I can’t wait to see how Matt, my own children, and other outstanding millennials harness those passions to make our world safer, smarter, and more productive.
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Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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